Version tested: Wii
Sometimes it's comforting when you know exactly what to expect from a videogame. Mario Sports Mix has all the Mario sports hallmarks: Mushroom, Flower and Star trophies, infuriating random items, courts that make absolutely no sense (basketball on a sandy beach? Ice hockey on the lawn of Princess Peach's castle?), a wide cast of Nintendo characters with superficially differing abilities and special moves... The woiks. It's also got a tiny touch of Square Enix in the form of unlockable characters like Moogle and Cactaur, which you can steadfastly ignore if you're still a bit upset with Square over splitting with Nintendo in the nineties.
There are four sports – Basketball, Hockey, Volleyball and Dodgeball – each with their own separate tournament structures. Hockey is the star of the show, primarily because it's almost as fast and violent as the actual sport. Playing in teams of two or three, the aim is simple – smack the coin-shaped puck past the Shy Guy goalie and into the back of the goal with as much force as possible.
You can charge up flying power-shots or rely on speed and accuracy instead, but you don't have to think about anything very hard. Despite the potential for feinting, dodging and combo moves, you'll do just fine pressing A to pass and flicking the remote to shoot. If you get into a fight over the puck, you have to shake the remote vigorously to batter the opposition into submission.
Basketball puts in a strong showing too. It's a pared-down version of Square Enix's last Nintendo-licensed game, Mario Hoops 3-on-3. The controls are similar to hockey – A to pass or steal the ball, remote-waggling to shoot – but it's a lot more about timing, especially in the three-point zone. It's also a much more interesting game in defence, making you protect your basket from dunks and long-range shots with leaps and spin attacks. Lay-ups, dodges and combo alley-oops make it the most complicated of the selection, but as with Hockey you can usually rely on the basics.
Volleyball and Dodgeball are pretty weak. A hit in Dodgeball doesn't send a player out immediately – instead, everyone has an energy bar, which removes all that high-speed tension from the game. The ball itself soars through the air at such a leisurely pace when thrown it that it's actually quite difficult to get hit at all. Volleyball is sluggish, too – two sets of 15 points take an age to complete, and it's the only one of the four sports where AI opponents seem able to outright cheat you out of a point.
There are a few random elements common to all four. Collecting coins adds points to your score if you bank them by shooting a goal/hoop/smash, which can turn a match around in moments if you let the other team amass a moderate fortune. Yellow item boxes on the floor of the court yield the usual shells, mushrooms and other Mario staple items, but they're mercifully sparse.
The various courts are full of gimmicks ranging from cute to monstrously irritating. A Luigi's Mansion-flavoured one turns the lights out every minute or so and sends in ghosts to mess up the game, a racecourse-themed hockey court puts traffic cones in front of the goal rather than a keeper, a Princess Peach volleyball court blocks areas of the net with fountains. It's all part of the Mario sports "thing", of course; the obstacles only seldom get in the way of victory.